by Andrew Frost
Today we’re having a look at Andrew Frost’s The Northeast Kingdom. What caught me first of all was the name. The Northeast Kingdom seems like it could be a magical land straight out of a fantasy novel, and I couldn’t wait to have a look at Frost’s series, to see what this Kingdom was like.
Frost doesn’t disappoint; the project came from an urge to go back and visit the family’s roots, to discover his heritage and explore beginnings and ends. The Northeast Kingdom is a wonderful visual story featuring a mix of portraits and landscapes, which gently reveal the people and character of the area.
It seems that time stands still in The Northeast Kingdom; this could have easily been today or decades ago, and there’s a sense of strange nostalgia in many of the images, perhaps emphasised by the use of black and white film and the wonderful compositions that Frost creates in his images.
First of all, please introduce yourself.
My name is Andrew Frost, I’m a photographer, bookmaker and printer. I have an MFA in photography from Syracuse University, and I’m currently running and managing the presses at a small company that makes photobooks called Conveyor Arts. I was born in Japan, moved all over, and now I’m based in Northern New Jersey, just outside of New York City.
You’ve moved 18 times before you were 15. Tell us about some of the places you’ve been.
My father was in the Navy. When you’re on active duty you end up getting shuffled around a lot. I was born in Yokosuka, Japan, but we were only there for a few months after I was born. I spent my first birthday in Southern California; a lot of my childhood was in and around Virginia Beach, VA. We spent a bit of time in Pensacola Florida, and at some point ended up in East Tennessee, where I went to high school and college.
How did you get into photography?
Originally, I set out to study graphic design. I was pretty good with computers, and it seemed interesting. In my second semester of college I took an introductory photography course, and halfway through the semester I changed my major. It was the first thing I’d ever done that just clicked (sorry for the bad pun!).
Let’s talk about your project The Northeastern Kingdom.
My father isn’t on very good terms with his family, and we never had much money so I think it was a bit of a double whammy of limiting factors. We made one very short trip when I was young. My great grandfather had been ill, but all I remember was that there were a lot of large rocks.
That said, it’s a place that my father really loved and it’s amazingly beautiful. He told lots of stories about his childhood there; exploring off in the woods with the neighbourhood kids, going to the general store, throwing rocks at cars… It was all so foreign to me, and it seemed amazing.
I sort of built it up in my mind as this ideal world, not to mention a place where I had roots. In college I traced my genealogy and found that my ancestors had lived in the same area since the 1700s. Moving so much, I’ve never really called anywhere home; I often tell people I’m not really from anywhere. When I drove into Vermont, something just felt right – like I belonged.
I like to use my camera as an excuse to explore. I always tell students to use it as a way to get in trouble, and so that’s what I did – I started exploring and photographing. In some ways, photography allows me to understand a place a little better. Looking through a camera is one of the few socially acceptable ways to stare.
This project has taken place over 4 years – that must have resulted in a huge amount of photographs. On your website you’ve around 20 images – how difficult was it to edit the series, to show those 4 years in just a handful of photographs?
If anything, the time makes it easier. It allows the images to percolate a little, and helps the cream rise if you will. I like to edit with small prints. I’ll print hundreds of images and sort them into piles, and then re-sort and sort again. I have a few friends whose opinions I trust, and I’ll show them the edit and get feedback. Most of the work was made with an 8×10 camera, so a lot of editing happens before you ever press the shutter.
Additionally, all your images are in black and white. It’s been rare for us to see all-monochrome projects, especially those including portraits. What was the reason for this?
Initially it was a choice of economics. It was cheaper to use black and white film, but it pretty quickly grew in importance. I think the absence of colour lends a timeless quality to many of the images. They’re rooted in the contemporary world, but they could really be from any time.
In that same vein, one of the things I love about photographs is their dual nature; they at once show us a fact and a fiction, and I really enjoy the way that black and white film makes that fiction so clear (the world isn’t in monochrome) and yet somehow it seems more trustworthy.
What inspired you during the course of this project?
All sorts of things. I spent a lot of time with the photographs of folks like Mark Steinmetz, Mike Smith, and Julia Margaret Cameron. When I was working in the darkroom processing film and printing, I listened to an unending loop of Bob Dylan’s Live 1966 from Royal Albert Hall, and I read a lot of the poet/writer/farmer Wendell Berry.
Finally, four years is a long time to carry out a project. What were the most difficult things you had to overcome? And if you could go back in time, what would you advise to yourself on the first day of this project?
I find that when I go someplace new there are often so many easy photographs to make. Things just jump out because it’s all fresh and exciting. After all of those photographs are made, it gets really difficult. You have to really work to make the photographs happen.
At the same time, I was also getting to know this whole side of my family, which was exciting but tricky at times. If I could go back, I’d tell myself to spend more time there. I made these photographs over a lot of three and four day trips, and I wish I had been able to stay for a month or two at a time.